Mindfulness

chewing and brain function

Chewing and Brain Function

A Broad Impact on Health

carrotWho would have thought that the action of chewing food had a role other than to start the digestion process! Increasing research studies have found that mastication (technical term for the the action of chewing food) has a major impact on many aspects of our health. Chewing and brain function effects have been found in connection to learning, memory, focus and concentration.

Raw fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds and meat all demand more chewing. Many processed foods and cooked foods are softer and easier to chew through.  One of my pet hates when it comes to commercial food products are those ridiculous pouches of soft pureed fruit that kids consume direct from a tube, instead of chewing through an apple or orange! Now we know that this will have a negative impact on their brain, memory and learning.

On average, it is estimated that we chew 800 to 1,400 times a day.  We generally recommend chewing our food slowly, at least around 15 times, but for many foods we don't need that long and realistically swallowing is in an instinctive behaviour. We simply know when food is chewed well enough and then we naturally swallow. While it may seem logical that easy to digest food is a good thing, in reality we haven't evolved with soft foods. Many of the pathways that stimulate digestive juices and gut motility (that are essential for digestion) stem from the action of chewing and the taste of foods. Bitter foods for example are highly stimulating for digestion and chewing sends signals to the brain that stimulate the gut to prepare for food.

Good Teeth Are The Key!

elderlyAs we age, many people have declining memory and focus and concurrently may also suffer from poor dental function. With bad teeth, elderly people often resort to soft foods that don't tax the teeth, however this may lead to unexpected negative consequences. Not only will the gut not get clear signals for digestive juice manufacture, we now know there are more broad problems that can arise in distant regions of the body.  In particular, we know that mastication has a direct impact on learning and memory formation and so poor dental health can impact the brain. For instance, research has shown that the systemic effects of tooth loss are a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

The hippocampus is the brain region that is involved with forming memories and it seems that the action of mastication, stimulates this area. Functional MRI studies can compare the difference in brain region activity in different populations. The acquisition of memory in elderly people was significantly enhanced by chewing, but benefits of chewing had less effects in younger people.

Interestingly, another study found that lower intakes of nutrient-dense foods and higher intakes of unhealthy foods were also both independently associated with smaller left hippocampal volume. So it seems that it is both the processed foods being both nutrient poor and requiring less chewing that create a perfect storm for brain impairments.

Researchers have also found that a reduction in corticosterone production is another way that mastication can have a role in poor brain function. Thus a chronic stress state is induced by poor chewing activity and this can in turn lead to learning and memory impairments.  Concurrently, the act of chewing during stressful conditions was shown to attenuate the effects of stress on cognitive function. This has been further explored by some researchers with a recommendation to chew gum as a way of enhancing memory and cognition and delaying the development of dementia and also ameliorate the effects of stress on the brain.

appleSo there are so many reasons to chew your food well, and make sure the foods you eat include some types that require lots of chewing - like raw veggies! Also, it serves that foundational to this whole approach is to also ensure optimal dental hygiene. So if you choose to chew gum to boost your memory, make sure it is sugar free or contains xylitol which has been shown to reduce oral bacteria and prevent gum disease.

 

To learn more about maintaining healthy teeth through whole foods  - see this previous article.

 

Placebo effect

It’s all in the mind….exploring the power of the placebo effect

pillThe placebo effect is a term used to describe the benefit someone derives from taking a ‘medicine’ that is, in fact, not a medicine.  When people take something they believe to be a medicine, the power of their belief causes a shift in their thinking which then in turn can influence the physiology of the body.

In 1955, the scientist Henry Beecher published the classic work entitled “The Powerful Placebo” and he was the first scientist to define the placebo effect. Since that time, the placebo effect has been considered a scientific fact and the placebo or ‘dummy’ pill has been used to test the validity of drugs and treatments.  Unless a drug exhibits effects that are greater than the placebo, the drug is not considered effective. This powerful effect can be as high as 30-40% in some cases. Depression for example, has a fairly high placebo rate – with many people reporting improvements in mood whilst taking the placebo pill.  Other researchers have found that 85% of the effectiveness of cough syrups can be attributed to placebo, leaving only a tiny 15% to be active medicine. Side effects have even been reported in healthy volunteers taking placebo pills during clinical studies.

Research has been conducted for quite a few years into the placebo effect and how we might harness this in medicine.  After all if people can get better taking a dummy pill, then why don’t we use this effect more often? Placebo pills are biologically inactive and are thus safe and (should) have no side effects!

positiveSo why does the placebo pill work?  Our beliefs and expectations can influence and modulate activity in areas of the brain that are involved with perception, pain and the processing of emotion.  Researchers have shown that our mental processes such as thoughts, feelings and beliefs as well as our will and intention can significantly influence brain function.   Once upon a time, science viewed the way the brain functions as rigid and difficult to influence - especially in adulthood. However, we now know that the brain is far more open to influence and change and is in fact not rigid but quite ‘plastic’.  The term ‘neural plasticity’ has been coined to represent the fact that brain function is malleable and open to influence by our own subjective intention.  Once we have control over the master organ – we then have far more control and influence over the rest of the body’s functions.

So if we can positively influence our physiology through the ‘placebo’ effect – is it possible that we can negatively influence our body function through negative thinking?  This has, in fact, been shown to be true and has been given the term the ‘nocebo’ effect.  The nocebo effect has been scientifically proven, showing that with negative messages and verbal suggestions a patient can experience a worsening of their disease experience and outcome. It is not all just in the mind either – as blood tests shown increased inflammatory and pain markers after a nocebo procedure.

drpatEven when someone is given a diagnosis of illness – particularly serious or life threatening illness – the nocebo effect can start to operate.  This is why I find it counterproductive when well-meaning medical specialists tell a patient that they have “3 months to live” or they give similar limited predictions and opinions.  Research has shown that the anxiety and stress that this causes can negatively influence pain, immunity and mood – and go on to negatively influence the disease progression.

Another aspect of this mind over matter business is when a person creates an illness. In these cases, that despite the inconvenience and suffering of the disease, the experience is giving the patient some other positive reward.

I love bringing mind-body aspects into healing as it can really support healthy outcomes. Helping people to see how their thinking and beliefs influence all aspects of their physical health and subjective experiences is really rewarding. Even asking the question how their disease may be benefiting them often brings many insights and shifts.

So if we have a choice to influence our physical reality with positive or negative thinking and beliefs – then why not focus on the positive!

Self Care

Radical Self Care

The power of putting yourself first for health and wellness (without the guilt!)

self careSelf care is something that many people find hard. We are taught to put ourselves last in many cases, constantly attending to the needs of others before ourselves. Women in particular, and mothers even more so, often find it very hard to prioritise their needs and give themselves the care and attention that they need to feel happy and healthy. So many women tell me they feel guilty if they take time for themselves or spend money on themselves. As if everyone else’s needs are more important than their own. The truth is, everyone is equally valuable, worthwhile and deserving. No-one’s needs, wants or desires are more important than our own.

The practice of self care is simply a way of loving and caring for ourselves as though we matter – at least as much as anyone else!  Over-giving, over-achieving and over-striving are all examples of habits that erode our ability to practice self care.  Getting stuck in the doing and busyness of life, we feel overwhelmed and burnt out and our health can suffer on many levels. Getting a balance between the doing and the being, our outer life and inner life, and our need for work, rest and play is an essential foundation of health.

When we get out of balance we often experience physical, mental or emotional symptoms. I like to see these symptoms as calling cards or signals from our body or higher self as part of our early warning system. Something is out of whack in our life and needs to change to allow our body to return to health and vitality.  It could be anything from changing our diet, our sleep habits, our exercise routine, an unhealthy relationship or our job. Attending to any of these things that need to change means that we can shift the focus in our life back to what is right for us.  Indeed, all of these things are in fact a form of self care.

To truly care for ourselves, means we take the time and energy to give ourselves what we need to be happy and healthy on every level. If we gave ourselves the same level of love and care and nurture we give to our loved ones, I believe we would probably all be a lot happier!  When we fill our own cup so to speak, we then have plenty to give to others. More importantly, we can give freely without feeling depleted or tired and we can let go of any subtle feelings of resentment or the feeling of being a martyr or victim in our life.

 

do not disturbMany of us start the day by checking emails and text messages or looking at the latest news headlines or following the facebook feeds of others. In many cases, this habit gives our attention and energy to other people’s “stuff”. We might be inspired or learn something from some of the information we come across, but in many cases we are just distracting ourselves from attending to ourselves and establishing the inner focus we need to create the life we actually want.

There are always other people’s agendas invading our own, but by being more aware and more discerning about what we allow in is an important self care tool. It is all too easy to lose focus or get derailed by other people's opinions, behaviours and habits. We need to learn how to stop doing things we don't want to do and be more conscious of the way we often do things that don't really serve us just to please or receive acceptance from others.  Taking the time to reflect on our underlying habits and beliefs will often bring more awareness and free us from these self imposed limitations that block our success or happiness.

Bookending Our Days

bookendsIt is very powerful to have a self reflection practice that we can engage in – both at the beginning and at the end of our day. I like to call this bookending, as it gives structure and support and serves as a container for all that happens in between our day, much like bookends hold up our books and stop them from falling over.  Our days are often filled with so much busyness and activities and plenty of doing, doing, doing. Many of us certainly do enough that we could fill the pages of a book in any given day!

 

Giving ourselves space to pause and reflect on what we wish to have happen each day at the outset and then reflect on what actually happened at the close of the day, is a lovely way of bringing more conscious awareness into our life. We start to be a more active participant in our life, rather than feeling like life is something that is happening to us, that we have little control over. Any of the self care practices detailed in the download below can be used as bookends for our day.

 

time outThe self care download sheet I have put together (see below) outlines a range of activities we can engage in to practice self care. I recommend that you choose one or two self care practices at a time, selecting ones that appeal to you and explore what they offer. Give the particular methods a try and stick to them for at least two weeks and monitor to see how it is working for you. It is good to reflect on how they have helped you feel more connected and nourished, so please consider the questions at the end of the sheet to help build more awareness and momentum.

 

So in conclusion, remember that we are always told on aircraft to attach the oxygen mask to ourselves before assisting others. So this is a perfect analogy to remember when considering the importance of self care, as we are no good to anyone if we fall in a heap from exhaustion, sickness or burn out!

 

Get My Guide to Self Care Strategies - click below to download

Self Care Strategies

 

 

Natural Solutions For Hypertension

Natural Solutions for Hypertension

heart steth

Hypertension is a major risk factor for many diseases

Hypertension is also known as high blood pressure and is a very common medical condition in developed western countries.  Hypertension is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and has been linked to heart failure, stroke and kidney dysfunction.  High blood pressure is often known as the ‘silent killer’ as many people with it have an absence of symptoms and go undiagnosed.

Blood pressure is essentially a measure of the pressure that is exerted by the circulating blood on the body’s blood vessels.  With each heart beat blood pressure varies slightly. The maximum pressure exerted is called ‘systolic’ and the minimum pressure is ‘diastolic’. These terms are used in measuring and diagnosing a person’s blood pressure – with the measure showing systolic pressure over diastolic pressure in mmHg, for example a normal reading is 120/80. An elevated reading (at or above 140/90) over three visits to a medical professional will give a diagnosis of hypertension.

Hypertension is either classified as primary or secondary hypertension – referring to whether it is a stand-alone condition or it is a secondary symptom of another disease process.  For example, high blood pressure can result from kidney disease – as the kidney is an organ that has a role in regulating blood pressure.  However, most cases of hypertension are considered ‘primary’ and thus they have unknown or poorly understood causes.

sphygmo

There are many natural solutions for hypertension

Blood pressure normally varies throughout the day and also over the course of one’s life.  For example, children have lower normal ranges than adults  and blood pressure tends to be higher in the elderly – primarily due to less flexibility of the blood vessels. Also blood pressure varies with exercise, sleep and digestion.  Emotional reactions can have a strong influence on blood pressure and many people suffer from ‘white coat hypertension’ – where the anxiety about having their blood pressure checked by a doctor, causes it to be elevated.

Environmental factors, diet, stress levels, behaviour patterns and genetics are all thought to play a role in the development of hypertension. The typical western diet is often implicated – with excess intake of processed foods, sugar, salt, refined fats, alcohol and caffeine, along with a shortage of fresh, whole foods, water and fibre.   Lifestyle factors linked to hypertension include lack of exercise, smoking, stress, occupational hazards and obesity. It is always important to address as many underlying causes as possible.

Research over the past two decades at the HeartMath Institute in America has found a direct link between high blood pressure and stress. They have found that stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, which increases adrenaline. Adrenaline makes the heart beat faster, causes blood vessels to constrict and initiates the production of the major stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol causes blood-vessel constriction as well as salt and water retention in the kidneys and results in elevation of blood pressure. I have trained in HeartMath techniques and incorporate these along with other mindset and meditation tools to help people manage stress, anger and anxiety and transform their emotions. Learn more about these techniques here.

Hawthorn is one of the best herbs for the heart.

Hawthorn is one of the best herbs for the heart.

There are many natural solutions for hypertension and natural medicine has an important role to play in managing high blood pressure.  Assessing each person’s case history from a holistic perspective will reveal their individual contributing factors to their hypertension and a treatment plan can then be designed.  Herbs such as Hawthorn and Dan Shen have been traditionally used for managing cardiovascular complaints and have been shown to lower blood pressure in some studies. Herbalists normally combine a range of herbs to suit the person’s individual presentation.  For example, if they are stressed or need to lose weight different herbs will be indicated. Other supplements such as omega 3s, vitamin E, magnesium, garlic, ginger and turmeric may also be beneficial.

Preventative health is always about educating people so that they make healthy choices and prevent disease from occurring.  Understanding the benefits of a healthy diet, stress management and making wise lifestyle habits can make the difference between getting a disease or not. Hypertension, like many western diseases is a symptom of the body being out of balance.  It heralds a time to assess your life and make some positive changes!

 

 

 

Harmful Effects of Screen Time

Harmful Effects of Screen Time

Kids and Media Use:  How Much is Too Much?

School holidays are fast approaching again! Many parents (and kids!) look forward to less routine, no school lunches and rushed mornings! Hopefully the spring weather will draw kids outside to play in nature and at the beach - but many children I see in my clinic tend to spend their holidays stuck behind screens. Without the 'school night' curfews, often it is a free for all when it comes to kids and screen time during holidays.

So are screens (TV, computers, mobile devices) harmful and should we be limiting our children’s time in front of them?  Normally when we look at holistic health we include all manner of things - from diet and lifestyle to family history and individual health history.   I always ask children (or their parents) about not only their food diet but also their media diet. Just like food, media experiences must be ‘digested’ and fully understood and essentially ‘made our own’.  In the same way rich food can disagree with sensitive stomachs, screen experiences that are too rich or too abundant can overstimulate and disagree with sensitive brains and emotions.  Children do not have the capacity to process in a rational or logical manner screen experiences the way that adults can.  Their developing brains and emotional immaturity put them in a vulnerable position, where too much too soon can leave a lasting impression.

sad childThere has been a big interest in the past few years into how the brain is affected by the increasing screen time that many children are now experiencing. In fact, some argue much of the fear, anxiety and depression that is becoming so prevalent in today’s children is merely reflecting overstimulation and premature exposure to media influences. Some children in my clinic who suffer nightmares, phobias and anxiety often report being scared when watching a movie or a computer game.  Many other children do not understand where their fears and anxieties come from. They are possibly a build up of many different experiences that are poorly digested and appear as behavioural issues, emotional lability or sleep disorders. Parents always report bad behaviour or restlessness after screen time – yet often feel powerless to limit their children’s time.

We all know about the modern ‘explosion’ in children with Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorders (ADD/ADHD) and autism. Much research is being done and possible causes have been identified – most being related to environmental issues.  These include diverse things from food additives to vaccinations and media exposure. Other researchers are examining the way the brain is changing in children after being exposed to screens.  The instant gratification offered by computers and continuous snippets of information bombarding our brains from surfing the web to SMS messages and emails is literally changing the way the brain is connected and operates.

mediaThe virtual world is very different from the real world. Screens do not readily explore metaphor, abstract concepts or logical narrative. They do not encourage long attention spans or imagination.  Is it any wonder that so many of our kids can’t concentrate or sit still for very long – their brains are programmed from a young age to do the opposite. Screen experiences are always processed in the moment, with very little capacity for follow-up or consequences.  For example when a game allows you to shoot someone, you don’t have to deal with the consequences of that death.  Then if you happen to ‘die’, well you just start over. Susan Greenwood is a leading UK researcher in neuroscience and has observed a real shift in brain function.

"In the current generation if they've been exposed, as most western people have, to screen culture, they will have a shorter attention span and an emphasis of process over content. This means that these young people don't necessarily spend time evaluating the meaning of things and are perhaps rather impulsive and live in the moment, demanding a high degree of sensory stimulation, as opposed to the ability to reflect and think about abstract things."

girl natureIf you need some inspiration to create a new low screen time environment at home, you should check out Susan Maushart’s book, “The Winter of our Disconnect”. It provides a fascinating look behind the scenes at a single mother and her three teenager’s experience of going screen free. Like most teenagers, they were heavy users of online social networking, mobile phones, TV, digital music and computer games.  The book documents many of the issues and withdrawal symptoms that she and her kids had with letting go of their myriad devices.  But the interesting part is how they adapted and how they came to appreciate other things in life.  Her son took up saxophone and her daughters started cooking – and they spent lots of time together as a family.  Without screens to escape to, mealtimes were lingered over and became a time to connect as a family and dusty old board games were given a new lease of life.

A truly holistic view of a child’s health must incorporate their diet, their home life dynamic, screen time and their school and social life.  All these things will impact on a child’s physical and emotional health.  In my view, limiting screen exposure is a responsibility few parents are willing to embrace. Yet, a childhood rich in real life experiences with people, places and the natural world is a gift that will pay dividends.  So consider having a family media holiday – even one day a week - and enjoy the many rewards of connecting with each other rather than a screen.

You may also want to check out my video webinar on the effects of wifi and mobiles on health.

 

men’s health

Men's Health

A Spotlight on the Challenges

Women’s health issues tend to enjoy more attention than men’s health, however, Australian men are at a higher risk of developing  many chronic diseases and have a lower life expectancy than women. 

unhealthyThe leading health issues for men are heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, depression and substance abuse – including tobacco and alcohol. Young men have specific health concerns are at greater risk of depression and injury and death from accidents, suicide and self harm. Young men are almost three times more likely to die than young women.  Men from indigenous or poor socio-economic backgrounds are at greater risk of dying from a range of diseases including heart disease, respiratory problems and suicide than men from higher socio-economic backgrounds.

Given that men have a higher risk than women and are more likely to die from degenerative diseases like heart disease and cancer – one might expect men to be more conscious of their health than women.  However, the opposite is true. Many men are reluctant to visit health professionals for regular checkups and they often ignore signs of ill health until symptoms get quite bad.  Thus men often present in medical clinics with quite advanced illness due to the long delay in seeking medical  assistance.   In contrast, women are far more likely to be concerned with their everyday health and regularly visit their doctors for routine tests such as PAP smears and breast screenings.

stressmanThere is much debate and questioning from medical and social commentators about why gender plays such a role in predicting health outcomes. Obviously gender will play a role in the development of specific reproductive diseases.  However, there are many more subtle differences in women and men from an environmental and social perspective. Some of the environmental issues for men are occupational health and safety. Men often work in occupations that pose a greater risk to their health.   In the professional sector, men are often working in excess of 48 hours a week, which will significantly impact on their physical health, family relationships and emotional wellbeing. With reduced leisure time, men are exercising less and getting more obese.

Many men that I see in my practice are there because their partner has recommended it.  They are often uncomfortable talking about their complaints and reluctant to discuss their emotional wellbeing.  Men are known to deny experiencing emotional stress and are more likely to abuse alcohol or other drugs to cope with stress. There is an unspoken expectation in our society for men to be stoic, strong and self reliant which often translates to not seeking help for physical or emotional problems. Interestingly, research shows that men who are in supportive relationships and have high job satisfaction are more likely to have positive attitudes and moods.  Getting men to visit a health clinic is a good first step, however it is unfortunate that the compliance amongst men for continuing with medical or allied health treatments is quite poor.  Men will often wait until things are worse or become more serious before following up again with health practitioners.

It is hard to know how we might change the habits of Australian men to allow them to take better care of their health.  Common male health complaints that can be improved with holistic and preventative health strategies include heart disease, prostate enlargement, obesity, diabetes, stress and depression, digestive disorders and infertility.  Male infertility is on the rise and poor sperm count can also be a symptom of other factors such as stress, alcohol, smoking and poor diet.

mansaladMany of the men that I see in my practice have poor diets and skipping meals is a common occurrence.  A healthy diet is a basic preventative strategy, that is known to positively influence and prevent many diseases.  Men, like many women, often do not realise what is healthy and can find changing their habits hard.  Practical changes such as switching to a healthy breakfast option like porridge, muesli or eggs and taking a healthy packed lunch to work can often make a real difference to your health and wellbeing.

Other positive life changes include exercise and developing work life balance and stress management techniques.  Meditation is a tool that men can learn and employ to help deal with stress and emotional issues. My stress management workshop can be a good place to start for many men, who may benefit from better managing their stress and workload.

 

 

 

Adrenal Health

Adrenal Health

suprarenalThe adrenal glands are small glands that sit like a hat on top of the kidneys. They are powerful little endocrine glands that manufacture and secrete steroid hormones such as cortisol, DHEA (which in turn can be made into oestrogen and testosterone) as well as adrenalin (sometimes called epinephrine). Many of the hormones produced by the adrenals are essential for good health and vitality, so if your adrenals aren’t functioning well, there can be widespread impacts.  They modulate and support the function of every tissue, organ and gland in your body to maintain balance during stress or illness to help you heal or keep you alive. The adrenal hormones closely modulate many metabolic processes in the body:

  • the utilization of carbohydrates and fats
  • reproductive function and fertility
  • the conversion of fats and proteins into energy
  • bone density and muscle mass
  • inflammation and immune function
  • the distribution of stored fat  – especially around your waist
  • normal blood sugar regulation
  • proper cardiovascular function
  • gastrointestinal function and digestion

 

Some of the signs that your adrenals are struggling include:

stressENERGY & MOOD

  • low energy, tired all the time
  • up and down or erratic energy
  • tired but wired feeling
  • irritable, easily angered, cranky
  • depressed, sad, teary, anxious

SLEEP

  • poor sleep, waking often, insomnia, night sweats
  • increased need for sleep, excessive sleep
  • waking unrefreshed and tired in the morning

IMMUNE

  • recurrent illness (colds, flu, sinusitis)
  • take a long time to recover from simple disorder
  • chronic & autoimmune conditions like eczema, arthritis & allergies.

obesityDIGESTION, WEIGHT & BODY COMPLAINTS

  • headaches and migraines
  • craving sugar or caffeine
  • weight gain (especially around belly), difficulty losing weight,
  • digestive problems (irritable bowel, nausea)
  • muscle tension and pain
  • chest pain, difficulty breathing

Stress and Adrenal Function

It is important to understand the role of stress and how it influences adrenal function when we are looking at improving the function of the adrenals and optimizing energy and vitality.

The body has an inbuilt survival mechanism which allows us to mobilize its resources to escape or fight off danger and survive. The fight or flight response is a well known cascade of physiological effects that harness energy and strength to enable us to survive. While we may have evolved dealing with real life threatening situations (such as escaping from a wild animal or enemy clan) our bodily response to modern day stresses are the same. We don’t differentiate very well between true life threatening stress and mere emotional stress, because the part of our brain that responds to stress needs to act quickly and automatically. Taking time to consider the options and engage the rational mind, may delay actions that could be costly or deadly.

tired business manModern life for many of us is fraught with constant low grade stress. Even being available and switched ‘on’ 24/7 can often give us a feeling of mild stress. We are always anticipating the next thing to do or the next stress to deal with. Common stresses that I see amongst my patients include work dissatisfaction, a difficult boss, financial stress, relationship dramas and parenting demands. Then we also have the issues of environmental stress such as air pollution, electromagnetic radiation and chemicals in food and water. The stresses in turn can lead to a variety of physical and psychological health problems that can themselves be a further source of stress.

It is also the job of the adrenal glands to keep our body’s reactions to stress in balance so that they are appropriate and not destructive. Cortisol has a protective anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant activity that can help to minimize the inflammatory reactions in allergies and autoimmune disorders.

Adrenals & Reproductive Function

The adrenals are also responsible for producing DHEA which is a precursor to oestrogen and testosterone and thus have a role in reproductive function. Prolonged stress is a well known cause of reproductive dysfunction and in women can lead to delayed or lack of ovulation, erratic cycles or heavier periods.  In men, chronic or acute stress can impact on hormones and lead to lowered sperm count and poor libido in men. After mid-life when the ovaries and testes start to decline in function, the adrenal glands gradually become the major source of the sex hormones circulating throughout the body in both men and women. These hormones themselves have a whole host of physical, emotional and psychological effects, from the level of your sex drive to the tendency to gain weight. Thus, I find in my patients that the function and integrity of the adrenal glands is an important predictor of how easy or trouble free a woman's experience of menopause will be.

Stress Management – the key to healthy adrenals

corporate yoga womanLearning to manage our stress is essential for health and wellbeing on all levels. Much of what I do with many of my patients is help them make choices and create strategies that can moderate their stress. We go through all the events or situations which contribute to their stress load and identify the things that they can change in a practical sense. In some cases, even just changing our attitude or perception of situations can help decrease the effect of these stresses on our health and wellbeing.

Generally I find the two best strategies for managing life’s inevitable stresses are exercise and relaxation/meditation.  Some people find one is enough, but most people will benefit from doing both. In terms of exercise, though,  I want to emphasize that it is important to not overdo it. While many of us use exercise as a stress management tool, sometime it can add more pressure and physiological demands on our system. Many patients I have treated for adrenal fatigue and burnout have been over-exercising. Once they slowed down and did more gentle approaches, they started to improve.

I am a big fan of having a daily practice of some kind, such as meditation, yoga or breathing. Having a regular activity that allows us to pause and get perspective can make a big difference in how we feel and cope with stressful events. Learn more about managing stress with specific meditation and breathing tools I can teach you here.

 

Herbs & Nutrients for Adrenal Health

The first thing to know when it comes to supporting your adrenals is to ensure you choose foods and eating patterns that stabilize your blood sugar. Skipping meals or eating high carbohydrate or sugar laden foods will put more pressure on your adrenals (as well as your liver and pancreas!) Choosing regular meal times and ensuring there is a good quality protein (think eggs, nuts, seeds, dairy, meat/fish) at each meal. Protein and good quality fats will create a stable slow burning energy and avoid blood sugar swings. It is also good to avoid caffeine which can be too stimulating on worn out adrenals. There are a range of nutrients that can support optimal adrenal function and energy and normally I prescribe specific supplements designed to support the adrenal glands, that often include B vitamins, zinc, amino acids etc. You can learn more about foods and how they support energy here.

Holy Basil - a great herb for supporting the adrenals.

Holy Basil - a great herb for supporting the adrenals.

Herbs that support adrenal health are normally referred to as adrenal tonics or adaptogens. Kidney herbs can also be useful for supporting the adrenals. Some of my favourite adrenal herbs include Rhodiola, Withania, Siberian Ginseng, Licorice, Oats and Holy Basil. These herbs can help support our body to adapt and better cope with stress and promote good levels of energy. Generally speaking these types of herbs are taken for a period of at least 6-8 weeks and often for a number of months to get the best results in building resilience, conserving energy and preventing burnout during stressful or demanding periods.

 

So in summary, having well functioning adrenals is essential for optimal health. Take time to look after yourself, make healthy food choices, get regular exercise and manage your stress and you will be rewarded with healthy adrenals which will flow on and impact the rest of your body, mind and spirit!

 

bloating remedies

Say Goodbye to Bloating!

bloatingBloating is a common complaint that many people suffer from and depending on the severity can be either inconvenient or quite distressing. Abdominal bloating can be due to a range of different conditions and from a holistic perspective, we always assess the patient from a much larger picture than just a cursory look at digestive function.
Let's look at the causes and some natural bloating remedies.

Probably the most common cause of bloating however, is simple digestive dysfunction caused by eating too much, eating the wrong foods or eating while on the run. One of the major causes of poor digestion and bloating can be a lack of digestive enzymes, including hydrochloric acid, that the stomach and pancreas produce. These enzymes help to break food down and when insufficient, can lead to bloating and fermentation as the food takes much longer to be digested than what is ideal. Digestive enzymes tend to decline with age, but stress is also another major reason for low enzyme levels and poor digestive function. When we are stressed, the nervous system switches over to “flight or fight” mode and in turn the stimulation to our digestive system is put on hold. When we eat while stressed or on the run, we often don’t allow our body to digest our food and symptoms of bloating, wind, reflux and sluggish digestion can prevail. So managing your stress, taking time out and slowing down to practice mindful eating is a good simple way to ensure optimal digestion.

gentian

Gentiana lutea - a classic bitter herb

 

The European habit of having an aperitif before meals is a traditional way of stimulating digestion. Often aperitifs are quite bitter in taste. The bitter taste creates a strong nerve reflex and stimulates release of digestive juices. Naturopaths often prescribe bitter herbs or foods before meals to promote optimal digestion. Gentian is my favourite bitter digestive herb that has been shown to increase gastric secretions.

It is amazing how much just slowing down and preparing properly to eat a meal with awareness will enhance digestion. Chewing our food well and eating slowly also helps to predigest our foods and prevents overeating. Following the Okinawan habit, known as “hara hachi bu” of eating to 80% full is a good idea.

 

IBSBloating may be connected to a condition called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This disorder is very common and presents with one or more of the following symptoms - bloating, wind, cramping, diarrhoea or constipation. IBS is a diagnosis often given to patients, when a range investigations fail to find any underlying pathology or reason for the symptoms. Many patients I have seen over the years had all the tests and were told by doctors that there was nothing wrong with their gut, and yet they still had symptoms that were quite debilitating. IBS is a very common condition and thought to affect up to one in eight people. There is no standard medical treatment for IBS, but I always find herbs and dietary change can make a big difference to the symptoms of IBS. Food intolerance to foods such as wheat and dairy products is quite a common cause of IBS and bloating. Not surprisingly IBS is often associated with stress and people suffering from anxiety have a high incidence of IBS.

 

Gut bacteria is an important component of digestive health. Whether we have a good array of beneficial bacteria or a collection of unhealthy bacteria will to a large extent determine our digestive function. Ongoing research into the human microbiome (gut flora) continues to display important ibs triggerslinks to many, often seemingly unrelated conditions, such as immune issues and mental health disorders. A relatively recently discovered condition called SIBO can also be a major cause of intestinal bloating and wind. SIBO stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and occurs when bacteria that are normally only present in the large intestine, migrate to the small intestine thereby causing havoc. These bacteria feed on carbohydrates in the diet and produce a range of gases such as hydrogen and methane, which in turn can cause bloating, discomfort and wind. Patients with SIBO will often feel worse after having fruits and other fermentable carbohydrates, often grouped as FODMAP foods. FODMAP is an acronym for specific fermentable sugars and carbohydrates – oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. These foods include many fruits, certain vegetables, legumes, wheat and dairy foods. The low FODMAP diet is often used to help treat SIBO and IBS sometimes along with conventional antibiotic treatments or herbal therapies when necessary.

 

So there are many possible causes of the dreaded abdominal bloating! Starting with a good look at your diet, eating practices and stress levels is the best place to start. If that doesn’t help then consider a full health assessment and we can do comprehensive functional testing for food intolerance and bowel issues as well as look at prescribing some herbal digestive remedies, enzyme supplements and more.

Remember while you are what you eat…you really are what you digest!

 

 

Managing Stress

Managing Stress

givingMany of you know I have been researching the heart and its role in our health and wellbeing for some time. I am fascinated with all the new research that shows that the heart is much more complex that a simple pump, instead being a highly developed organ of perception and insight. In many studies, the heart responds before the brain to stressful events and can even predict future events and stresses before they happen (!)
Along the way, some of you have learned a technique for stress management from me called heart breathing which can help shift you into a state of peace and calm. I am excited to now offer a tool and device which gives additional insight and feedback on how well you are managing stress and the impact your state of mind is having on your health. These range of important and simple tools and practices can help manage your stress and teach you how to get out of mental and emotional chaos and into peace and balance!

 

Using this cutting edge emwave pro device from HeartMath we can assess how stress is impacting on you and teach you how to get yourself into a healthy mind and body. When you are operating from a place of inner balance, the benefits are widespread including improved moods, balanced hormones, anti-ageing effects, better digestion and robust immunity.
HRVUsing the HeartMath tools and technology gives us important bio-feedback which can help to change our nervous system’s response to stress, and in turn achieve new levels of health and wellbeing.  The device displays heart rate variability which gives you accurate feedback on what your internal state of being is, displaying it in wave patterns. (see picture right)

 

When we experience stressful or negative emotions such as tension, anxiety, irritation, frustration and anger our heart rhythm pattern becomes irregular and incoherent, which negatively affects many aspects of health from digestion to immunity and hormones. It can also negatively impact on brain function, performance and our moods and sense of well-being.  In contrast when we experience positive emotions such as love, gratitude, appreciation, compassion and joy our heart, brain and respiratory system experience optimal function and promotes health and wellbeing throughout the body.

 

vitalityIf you would like to learn some simple stress management methods to shift your inner state out of busyness, stress and chaos into inner peace, calm and effectiveness, then make an appointment for a stress busting session.  Get accurate feedback with a scientific tool and learn to manage anxiety, depression, anger and watch how your health and happiness improves!

ants

Do you have a problem with ANTs?

While the little black insects can be a real problem, the other kind of ant is far more damaging. Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) are a common problem for people, often working behind the scenes to make us feel stressed, unworthy or anxious, more than we realise.

negative-thinking-patterns-fullOur thoughts control how we feel about ourselves and the world around us. Whether our thoughts are positive or negative will dictate how we feel and often how we act. Positive thoughts generally lead to us feeling good, while negative thoughts tend to put us down and make us feel sad, anxious or overwhelmed. Sometimes our thoughts happen so quickly that we fail to notice them, but they can still affect our mood. These are called automatic thoughts, because they happen as if on auto-pilot and tend to be spontaneous. In many cases automatic thoughts are negative and irrational and tend to exacerbate pre-existing anxiety and fears.

ANTs have the following features:

  • They are not realistic or logical
  • They arise spontaneously with little conscious control
  • They increase negative feelings such as anxiety, low self-esteem and stress
  • The are self-defeating and persistent

viciouscircle1

While it can be useful to notice and replace a negative thought with a new rational or more positive thought, it may only touch the surface. It is true that changing negative thoughts to more positive affirmations will often improve our mood and make us feel better. However, moving beyond identifying negative automatic thoughts and learning more about the beliefs and programming that dictate them is a much deeper way of healing and resolving this issue.

timeout natureFor many people with health issues that are chronic or challenging, it is very common for their thoughts, beliefs and feelings to accentuate their health problems and create a no-win situation. By not being able to imagine ourselves having achieved our goal of being healed, pregnant, happy, pain free etc, we essentially lock in place our current situation. In many cases, just by breaking the lock on the chain that binds us to our thinking, our body is free to get on with healing or creating the change that we are truly seeking. It is a case of changing the commonly held notion of " I will believe it when I see it" to "I will see it when I believe it!"

A range of mind-body techniques can be employed to resolve the emotional imprint or past experience that caused the negative thought to occur in the first place and to also continue to recur.  Quantum Emotional Healing and Psych-K are two modalities that I have trained in and find useful. Creating a vision and goal for how you would like your life to be different - whether it be health or personal life and then working with the realm of beliefs or past emotional experiences can help to release old patterns and send ANTs packing.  To learn more about my mind-body counselling services or to make a booking, please see this page.

 

whether-you-think-you-can

Upcoming Events

There are no upcoming events.

To me Karen is an absolute angel! I highly recommend Karen to anyone who is going through the whole ‘roller coaster’ journey of IVF. It was so lovely to actually have someone that actually listened to me, it was in 2010 when we decided we would give IVF one last go before having a break. Karen put me on a super tonic which I call her ‘magic potion’ and after a few weeks in taking this my FSH levels dropped dramatically and this was my lucky month and my dream had finally came true. I always feel so positive every time I leave Karen’s rooms, I’m so glad that I found her I can never thank her enough for my positive out come!
Megan Wolarczuk
Subscribe to Blog

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.